Authors in Quarantine – Julie Czerneda

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Julie Czerneda: It’s been work as normal for us in many ways, especially coming out of winter. I turned in a book in February and the next is due early June. That’s a good pace. My publisher, DAW Books, has all their staff working from home and eager to see material flow. As I’d already been driving hard to turn in my current WIP, SPECTRUM, early, to give me more time ahead for a “secret project,” I haven’t lacked motivation. Now? Because spring is like a tonic, especially to see the green things and birds, the struggle to balance outside and office is pretty familiar. It’s not a bad thing.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Julie Czerneda: I’m very fortunate to live with my best friend and partner (coming up to 44 years, btw) Roger. We have offices and room to roam in our house, and much to do. For breaks and exercise, we love walks and biking, so that’s all good. I won’t lie, it’s agony at times being apart from the rest of our family and friends. Videos of loved ones are bittersweet. Sometimes I’ll sniffle a while afterwards. Not being able to help is the worst, but we know we’re protecting one another and are in it together. The end of this will come.

Like many, I can say we’re getting a great deal done on several fronts simply because we’re not leaving town or dividing our time. Oh, and I must applaud Roger for being our designated Seeker of Needful Things. I haven’t shopped since March 14th. (When I bought my wonderful new keyboard, so there’s that.)

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Julie Czerneda: I am grateful to be writing Esen. She’s family and joy, along with the suspense, and there’s a great release in finding new weird aliens around every corner. I don’t know if I could have written MAGE during this. Maybe. Glad I don’t have to find out.

The first week I couldn’t focus as well. The significance of the news was overwhelming–trouble with a science background, we both had a sense of how huge the problem would become. By the second, I’d regained my rhythm, but my daily word count was down maybe 20% overall until lately. (I track it) I do allow myself to walk away, then try again later. We leave the news till after our workday, as best we can. That helps. Plus we’re wary of what we watch or read for pleasure. Some themes cut too close right now and that’s normal.

Fortunately, the new book has hit the climatic portion–so much happens!–and that’s always the smoothest/fastest for me to write. I’m already seeing my numbers head back to normal. As for tone…that’s interesting. When I need to decompress, I’ve gravitated to rereading favourite mysteries, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Bonus? That tingly sense of oooh REVEAL CLUE!!!! has crept in to my story, which is fun.

Coffee and cheesecake from the local bakery

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – James Alan Gardner

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID 19 outbreak?

James Alan Gardner: Writing, reading, and playing computer games. Lately, I’ve also been playing a lot of tabletop role-playing games via Zoom. Gaming is good way of interacting with people; I’d feel a little strange just calling people up and talking to them, but playing games together makes things a bit more structured than just chatting.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

James Alan Gardner: I went to buy groceries this afternoon, and I felt as if shoppers were far less scrupulous about distancing than even a week ago. Personally, I still try to maintain the 2-metre distance, but it’s difficult when other people are less cautious. Something I reflect on when I go for a walk around my neighbourhood (which I do every day): a few months ago, it would have been horrendously rude to cross over to the other side of the street when you see someone coming toward you. Now, it’s civic virtue.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

James Alan Gardner: I’ve been working on the third draft of a novel throughout the quarantine, and for better or worse, most of the basics of the story are staying pretty much as they were in the previous draft. In other words, the disease isn’t having much effect on the work itself. But what about future work? How much will COVID-19 affect fiction in all the years to come…especially now when most of what I write takes place in a contemporary setting (albeit in a fictionalized world)? What will SF look like in two years? I think about that a lot. There should be huge effects, but I don’t think I’m ready to face that yet.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Douglas Smith

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

A pic of our backyard from the room where I write. Centred in it hanging from the tree is a bird feeder which keeps my attention throughout the day. At least the birds are free to roam in the world.

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Douglas Smith: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this discussion on Speculating Canada. What have I been up to? Basically, staying home with my wife and our youngest son. We’ve shopped online more in the past two months than any previous two years. We’re both in a high-risk category for the virus, so we’ve moved to ordering online and doing delivery or curbside pickup at stores for everything.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Douglas Smith: Lots of video calls with family, friends, and writing friends. I’d worked in global roles for about 15 years, so I was used to lots of video calls and meetings, but for business, not social. Now it’s weekly calls with family, a couple of times a month for virtual game nights with friends, playing bridge online with my wife. And our regular weekend trips to the movies have moved online, too, of course.

Interestingly, the situation has increased some social contacts. I now have a monthly call with a group of friends from around the world from one of the global jobs I held, where we used to get together physically once every couple of years. And I’ve reconnected via Zoom with a writer friend I hadn’t seen for almost a decade. 

I also have a daily “writing sprint” Zoom call with my critique group, where we chat for a bit then do 25-minute Pomodoro writing sessions, then chat some more. Rinse and repeat for a couple of hours every afternoon. We set it up as a standing daily call, but I don’t think any of us expected we’d all show up every day, but that’s generally what’s happened. We’ve moved our critique meetings online, as well.

I was scheduled to give a series of three workshops up at the Newmarket library in April, based on my writer’s guide, Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The in-person workshops were cancelled, but we managed to move them online to great success. I’ll be giving another in the series online on June 18 to the Writers Community of York Region.

I work out at home. I still get out cycling, but only around our area here in Markham, and I wear a buff as a mask and stick to the streets. We have great ravine and park cycling paths here but sadly they’re too crowded to maintain social distancing. The upside is that there are much fewer cars on the roads these days.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Douglas Smith: The daily writing sprint Zoom calls with my critique group have helped. I wrote a new 10,000-word short story (ok, yeah, not so short at 10k) in April using those meetings. Hopefully, the powers-that-be aren’t monitoring my search history, because my research for that one included “How long does it take to dig a grave?” I had a scary number of writer friends provide detailed answers. I don’t think I want to know how they know, you know?

Now, I’m trying to get back into writing book 3 of an urban fantasy trilogy I’ve been working on. I’d be curious to know what writers are reporting. My productivity varies, I’m finding. A new 10,000-word story in a month is good for me (I’m a slow writer and 10k in a story is harder than 10k in a novel). But there are days when I struggle to make any progress on any creative tasks.

There is a sameness to the days now. Even when you’re talking to different people on video calls, you’re still sitting at the same computer screen at the same desk. I used to shake up my writing routine by switching locations where I wrote—the local library, different coffee shops, as well as at home. These days, my options are limited to what room I sit in.

But it’s also given me time to do some much delayed work on my website, including setting up a new online store. As a thank you for this interview, your readers, if they wish, can use the discount code SPEC-CDA-25 on my store to get a 25% discount on all titles for the next few weeks.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Ursula Pflug

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Ursula Pflug: Folks have told me they feel as though they are living in one of my stories and there is a story in my third collection, Seeds and Other Stories, which has just gone to press, that’s about a pandemic.

Seeds is launching virtually on June 11 — it’s possible to register online in advance — please do. This book spans decades, it includes work that has appeared in award winning genre and literary publications in the US and the UK as well as at home in Canada. It’s my third collection and is coming out from Inanna, a Toronto scholarly and feminist press. The cover, which includes seeds and spaceships, is by Val Fullard who does all the Inanna covers. I know her from the old days in the Queen West scene in Toronto when she played in women’s bands with mutual friends. It’s one of my fave covers ever, and illustrates the cover story.

The pandemic story is called “Judy”, and was first published in 1983 in This Magazine, back when it was still edited by Lorraine Filyer. The first line is “That was the summer all the non smokers died”, and it follows a citizen scientist who stays up all night crunching data and then joins her roommates on the roof for a drink and to watch the sunrise. They’ve been there partying all night and mock her, just a little, but it’s her science that makes the correlations between smoking and survival. My husband is high risk not just because he’s over 65 but because he smokes and he was gratified when I told him about this surreal science fictional premise.

I spent the early days of lock down in copy-edits for this book, the usual fiddly and time consuming back and forth and it was actually a welcome relief because while the amazing Luciana Ricciutelli and I discussed whether hanafuda, liliko’i, poi, and wasabi should be italicized (yes, yes, yes, no) time went by during which I wasn’t, gratefully, thinking about Covid at all.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Ursula Pflug: We spend a lot of time working at home together anyway so our life hasn’t appreciably changed. I lost an eight week spring workshop — I prefer classroom teaching to online teaching. I’ve been doing more mentoring by email, mainly for short stories and do feel free to get in touch if you’re interested — but I do miss socializing with other bodies. Sometimes I organize drop offs or pickups of car seats or plants with friends and neighbours just so we can chat in the yard for a while. A good friend in Victoria has organized a weekly Happy Hour on Zoom for members of the electronic arts community and that has now become something we look forward to.

I felt shamed by all the baking pics on social media and made muffins. The muffins were good, but I gave up baking for a reason. Not so the victory garden. I’ve been an avid organic vegetable gardener for decades but in the last few years cut back, largely because our raised beds have gone feral and now are filled with jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), used in traditional indigenous medicine as an antidote to poison ivy. It’s beloved by pollinators — enough reason to not rip it out so I can give the beds back to tomatoes. Instead, we’re building new ones. We plan to fill them by the ancient method of Hügelkultur or hill culture. It’s a permaculture method hailing from Germany and Eastern Europe that no one here had ever heard of but which now shows up in our feeds not quite as often as sourdough but close. I’m only a little smug about being able to pronounce it properly. We are putting more time and effort into resusitating the garden than in recent years and glad of it. For one thing, we will be able to share with friends and neighbours who are living exclusively on their CERB. 

I’ve been on the Sunburst Award jury for short fiction. I stepped in as one of the jury members dropped out when the reading period had already begun. My wonderful fellow jurors were Sarah Tolmie and Omar el Akkad and we had interesting video chats — Portland, Toronto, Peterborough. I lobbied for WhatsApp, so dead simple you’re unlikely to say embarassing things in a livestream to Facebook from Zoom meeting as I have in fact recently done. Your friends, family and colleagues will love you once they have used it for the first time. We have an amazing Sunburst shortlist this year and the winning story is by a writer I hadn’t yet known which is always a delight. Stay tuned.

We’re both over 60 so we’re not really supposed to go to the store unless we go from 7- 8 a.m. However morning brain, as I call it to Doug, is the time during which one which can most efficiently edit so I’m not going to waste it sanitizing my hands and wandering the  aisles while trying to remember not to touch the cans. As well as being in the semi-retired demographic a lot of our friends are wildcrafters. We figure, if you don’t want to go to the store, you can go outside and pick dinner. Today it will be day lily sprouts, a first for me. Staying healthy isn’t based only on social distancing and hand washing, important as these are, but also on what you put in your body and wild foods will boost your immune system more than spaghetti. Trent Hills Homegrown Hamper delivers prepared meals from The Bakery in Warkworth and we have almost grown tired of their amazing Shepherd’s Pie. 

I read The Plague by Albert Camus. It was possibly rec’d online by Sang Kim who like me is a Camus fan. I read a digital library copy from Overdrive. This book was startling as it describes, note for note, what we are going through — quarantine, both fudged and effective official responses, the scramble for vaccines, hardworking medical staff, community solidarity, tragic losses, the effects of separation. It was published in ’47 and is considered an allegory for the occupation of France. As a description of an epidemic it’s eerily familiar. Not for the faint of heart but brilliant and startling for its echoes.

There’s a 6 k walk on the side roads around my village and I do it almost every day, Covid or not. I get ideas but mostly I clear my head. There are more people out walking now; we wave and stay on our own sides of the road. And I observe birds, even though I’m not really a birder. There are often ravens fluttering around the hydro poles, and on the fence of one of the farms there is a sign which reads, Raven Predation Project Participant. Me being me I had to find out what raven predation was so I went home and looked it up. The raven predation project is a Ministry of Agriculture initiative. Apparently ravens will prey on livestock, pecking out the eyeballs of living sheep and other animals. Now when I come home Doug says, “I see you foiled the ravens and still have your eyeballs.” I am not making this up. If I was a horror writer I would use it but I’m not. Go ahead and you’re welcome.

Shameless self promotion for June 11 virtual book launch:

https://www.crowdcast.io/e/inanna-booklaunch1/register

Join us for a virtual evening of readings and revelry featuring Lisa Braxton, author of The Talking Drum, Paul Butler, author of Mina’s Child, April Ford, author of Carousel, Rebecca Luce-Kapler, author of The Negation of Chronology: Imagining Geraldine Moodie, and Ursula Pflug, author of Seeds and Other Stories. Books discounted for event, Author Q & A & more! https://www.inanna.ca/


Ursula Pflug is author or editor of ten novels, novellas, edited anthologies and story collections. Her fiction has appeared in Canada, the US and the UK, in award winning genre and literary publications including Lightspeed, Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Postscripts, Leviathan, Now Magazine and Bamboo Ridge. Her books have been endorsed by Jeff VanderMeer, Tim Wynne-Jones, Candas Jane Dorsey, Charles DeLint, Mathew Cheney, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Heather Spears and others. Her short stories have been taught in universities in Canada and India, and she has collaborated extensively with filmmakers, playwrights, choreographers and installation artists. Her fiction has won small press awards abroad and been a finalist for the Aurora, ReLit and KM Hunter Awards as well as the 3 Day Novel and Descant Novella Contests at home. Pflug’s work has been funded by The Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts and The Laidlaw Foundation. A new reprint collection, Seeds, is forthcoming in May. (Photo Credit Andy Carroll).

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Second Speculating Canada Writing Workshop: Writing Fairy Tales

IMG_6815Sign up  for the  second of Speculating Canada’s writing workshop series taught by Trent University instructor Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD. Our workshop series allows us connect and write together and maybe to collapse some of the social distance by coming together online as a community.

This workshop is free.

Date: Thursday, May 14 at 7:00 PM EST

Location: Online on Zoom

Our first topic will be:

Writing Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are a powerful type of story and one that has continued to endure. Versions of various fairy tales have been told for centuries and continue to speak to our population. This workshop will provide you with a chance to interact with aspects of fairy tale narratives and imagine your own fairy tales, exploring current themes, social anxieties, needs, desires, and changes. Prepare to access your own Mother Goose, Brothers Grimm, or Charles Perault.

Derek Newman-Stille (they/them) teaches multiple courses at Trent University including continuing education courses in creative writing. Derek’s background is in classics and archaeology, and they will draw on that knowledge when exploring the mythic with you. Derek traditionally teaches feminist disability studies. They are the 9 time Aurora Award winning creator of Speculating Canada www.speculatingcanada.ca and has edited the collections We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press) and Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile).

There are limited spaces available, so sign up at

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/speculating-canada-writing-workshop-writing-fairy-tales-tickets-104917491040  

Authors in Quarantine – Kate Heartfield

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Kate Heartfield: The priority has been distance learning for my 10-year-old son, and I’ve also carried on with my regular freelance editing and online teaching jobs, in addition to trying to keep up with writing.

Even though I haven’t really had any extra time, I have been starting all kinds of new creative projects, because it helps my mental health. Projects help to remind me that today is different from yesterday and tomorrow will be different again, that change will happen. And I’ve always used work as a coping mechanism, rightly or wrongly! So in addition to everything else, I’ve been painting and assembling a hurdy-gurdy from a kit, baking a lot, and trying to get my garden in decent shape. I’ve signed up for an online course in Old Norse, because I figure, if not now, when? A lot of my projects (such as baking bread and making masks) also serve to help our household cope with the pandemic.

I’ve also been allowing myself the time to do a fair bit of relaxation activity, such as playing Civilization VI (my comfort game!) and watching TV with my partner and son. We just finished Tales from the Loop and are currently finishing up the last season of Clone Wars together.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Kate Heartfield: Our household is pretty fortunate, all things considered. My partner, my son and I are all introvert homebodies at the best of times, so on a day to day basis it doesn’t feel that strange. But the uncertainty about the future, the stress of distance learning and the inability to see people I love is wearing, for sure. I feel like my heart is a rubber band that’s been stretched into the same position for two months and is weakening at the edges.

I’ve been using Zoom and other online platforms to keep in touch as much as I can with my writing community, although I miss all my writer pals terribly and nothing can make up for their physical presence. I’m taking part in two virtual conventions this month, including the Nebula awards weekend at the end of May, and that helps to keep me in touch too.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Kate Heartfield: My creative brain is my coping mechanism, so I’m enjoying dreaming and plotting out my current novel. But when it comes time to sit down and write, I frequently struggle these days with a kind of brain freeze — I can’t execute and get the words down very well. An effect of long-term low-level stress, I think, and I’m sure a lot of us are feeling the same way. Also, I’ve lost a lot of the options I used to have to get into a fresh headspace by going to work at the library or my favourite coffee shop, which sounds trivial but was a bigger part of my working life than I realized.

So it’s slower than I’d like, but I’m getting work done. Soon, my editor will send some edits for my next novel, The Embroidered Book, which is coming out next year. When that happens, that will become my writing priority. In the meantime, I’m working on a novel that isn’t sold yet, so I don’t have a deadline, which is a blessing in some ways as it means there’s less stress, but it also makes it hard to keep at it, because writing a novel on spec is an implicit act of faith in the future and that’s hard right now. I really love the book, so that’s helping. I also wrote a story for The New Decameron Project, which was great, because it gave me a reason to take out an old half-finished concept and finish it up. The result was a story called “In a Hansom Cab at the Liberty Street Ferry Terminal” and it gave me great joy to write.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Cait Gordon

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

No haircut? No problem!

Spec Can:What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Cait Gordon: For the first two weeks, I levelled up to 1000% disability advocate mode, encouraging people to flatten that curve. But also being connected with other disability advocates meant my social media timeline soon became demoralizing. There was no attempt from many abled people (even those in authority) to disguise that they thought we were expendable during this crisis, no veil at all, and the eugenics-based mindset drained me. I found myself entering into The Overwhelm™, and had to pull back in order to preserve my own mental health. An interesting tonic for this was April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I was no way in shape to do it, but I went into Oh, why the heck not? mode. And the WIP I chose to work on was Iris and the Crew Tear Space a New One. This episodic series focuses on a command crew whose senior officers are disabled, Deaf, blind, and/or autistic, but my intention is to craft a world so accommodating and accessible, my characters just are. The focus is on their adventures, instead of an all-consuming narrative about their disabilities and/or conditions. I really needed the salve of living in Iris and the crew’s world while my own world felt like the ugliness towards my community was escalating. Thank goodness for speculative fiction. For me, it’s a true form of self-care at times like these.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Cait Gordon: HAVE YOU MET ME? I was social distancing before it was cool! Seriously, though, as a mobility disabled person who lives in a suburb without decent transit, I’m usually housebound at least five days a week. So, I’m kind of a pro at it. However, my stresses tend to derive from other people not knowing how social distancing works. The streets around me typically empty in the BeforeTime, but now more people are at home, so more people go out. And in my opinion, they don’t always get how keeping one’s distance works. I’ve not gone on many walks because I’d feel myself heading for autistic burnout from others not adhering to the rules. Although, I am so tempted to buy a ridiculously wide hoop skirt to keep people at bay. Fiddle-dee-dee, I say!

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Cait Gordon: There’s always an ongoing hum of stress in my mind, and that makes writing difficult because I don’t have enough brain spoons. But thankfully, my online writing group, The Inkonceivables, restarted during the outbreak, so they are inspiring me to have something to read out loud every two weeks. (By the way, anyone who tells me I must write every day, especially now, will be walloped with The Whacking Pillow. Fair, right?) Since my current WIP is written like episodes instead of chapters, I just have to think in short-fiction goals, which I can handle right now. I love short stories; they’re a delightful challenge all of their own. In fact, I decided to keep up the 2020 Flash Fiction Draw Challenge on caitgordon.com, as another distraction. I thought I’d be the only one writing, but all the other authors who participate in it were grateful I kept it up. So, that was very telling to me. We creatives sometimes have to sit back to soothe our minds, but others need to tinker with words. Both ways are valid. And as I keep telling people, we don’t have to be productive during a pandemic. For now, we survive. Then, we thrive!


Cait Gordon is a disability advocate who wants everyone to pummel that curve! She’s also the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When Cait’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network , a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also teamed up with Kohenet Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology in an attempt to take over the world. Narf.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD